What do students and campuses of the future need in an increasingly constrained and competitive environment?
The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Social Mobility 2020 report placed South Africa 80th out of 82 countries for access, equity and quality of education. According to this report, it will take nine generations for a South African born into poverty to reach the country’s median income. Two years on, these pressing concerns continue to weigh heavily on South African students and parents.
New findings reflected in PwC South Africa’s third annual Vice-Chancellor Survey and their inaugural Voice of the Student Survey for 2022, delve into how universities accelerated their digital transformation journeys due to COVID-19, and how this has been experienced by students. The surveys assess:
- The implications of digital transformation on teaching and learning, and the evolution of the campus of the future
- The growing financial constraints that local universities are operating in, and
- Students’ experience of various university processes, facilities, modes of study and curricula
The surveys were based on the responses of 18 vice-chancellors and/or deputy vice-chancellors from South Africa’s public universities, as well as 600 students and 200 parents.
At the beginning of the year, South Africa had 730 000 unemployed tertiary educated graduates, with this number steadily increasing over the past decade, according to Statistics South Africa.
Thaaniya Isaacs, Government and Public Sector: Higher Education Partner at PwC South Africa, says: ‘In order to respond effectively to these challenges, we need a high-functioning, high-impact education sector, from early childhood development through to vocational and higher education. For higher education institutions, there is a continued need for ongoing focus on delivering relevant future-fit skills into the economy.’
Impact of digital adoption on the ‘campus of the future’ and students’ experience
Since the onset of COVID-19, the higher education sector has experienced a myriad of digital disruptions − many of which were accelerated by the pandemic. While many institutions globally have experienced a return to campus, our research shows that the channelling of education content across digital platforms and digitally enabling the learning experience is here to stay. However, the extent of this adoption, and its impact on the sector and learning outcomes, is yet to fully unfold.
The surveys, which are intrinsically linked, explore the education sector’s intent on digital adoption both in its operations and the student experience. Key highlights among student and parent respondents are that:
- Most students feel prepared for the world of work, but there is concern about the lack of practical experience and the high unemployment rate.
- Students are concerned about the affordability of higher education.
- Students have generally shifted away from in-classroom learning and now prefer online or hybrid learning experiences.
- 83% of parents say they play a big role when choosing a university for their child, with the type of degrees, facilities, affordability and university reputation being key factors.
- 40% of students indicate that they would prefer studying at an international university if circumstances allowed.
Key highlights from vice-chancellors and/or deputy vice-chancellors are that:
- Universities continue to experience financial constraints with fundraising topping the list for alternative income sources.
- Increased investment in digital solutions is a popular approach to cost efficiencies.
- 50% of VCs described their budget for innovation being higher than previous years.
- Budget constraints and institutional culture are cited as the most significant barriers to digital transformation.Universities are investing in technologies for learning and student support with more than half either having deployed technologies such as 3D printing, chat bots, augmented or virtual reality, robotics and artificial intelligence.
- 100% of respondents said they provide some form of support to measure the effectiveness of the methods they use to assess their students’ health and well-being.
- Only eight respondents have a specific focus on suicide prevention.
Roshan Ramdhany, Education Industry Leader at PwC South Africa, says: ‘Higher education leaders play a key role in preparing the leaders of tomorrow for tackling the challenges the world faces. In fact, these leaders have dual responsibilities to navigate the paradoxes of leadership and also prepare the next generation of leaders to do the same. This includes reflecting on the skills of their own executive teams when moving their institutions forward.’
In the reports, six paradoxes of leadership, and how to effectively navigate them, are outlined for those at the top of higher education institutions. This includes thinking and engaging globally with people from diverse backgrounds to gain access to insights and talent in the global marketplace; embracing a tech-savvy attitude to allow leaders to investigate how their organisations can use digital technologies to make higher education accessible to more students; and focusing on what is unique to their institutions, and to use that uniqueness to create value and sustained outcomes.
Isaacs concludes: ‘Within a context of high local unemployment, and rising graduate unemployment, the student of the future will need to be increasingly vigilant on career choices and develop a breadth of relevant skills to avoid being part of these statistics. Undoubtedly, there is a crucial role that the Department of Basic Education needs to play towards preparing students better, both for the world of work and an easier transition to higher education, for those choosing this pathway. However, universities and higher education policymakers have a role to play too.’
By adapting to the needs of the future student, while simultaneously holding true to sound academic pedagogy and quality learning, the sector can pave the way for increased access to higher education and address skills uncertainty to prepare students for the new world of work. However, government policymakers will need to review the sector funding model, including that of student funding, to better cater for alternative learning channels and platforms that can allow universities to compete more easily at a global level.
To learn more about these new insights, please refer PwC’s Vice-Chancellor Survey and Voice of the Students Survey.